Kids Designing Tech for Health

Dylan Yamada-Rice
4 min readApr 10, 2019


How much information would young children like to prepare for an MRI scan?

How can design and play-based methods help children feed their ideas into the design of a med-tech product?

Recently, myself, another researcher from Dubit and academic partners spent time in primary schools working with children aged 4–10 years old. The aim was to gain their ideas for a med-tech product in the form of a play kit to help children their age have an MRI scan.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive scanning method that employs strong magnetic fields and radio waves to examine parts of the body. An MRI scan is used to facilitate diagnosis, help determine treatment and evaluate its effectiveness. In 2016–17, 142,020 MRI scans were carried out in England on children aged 0–14 (Dixon, 2017). Dixon (2017) also notes that MRI activity is expanding rapidly with an increase of 10% between 2015–16 and 2016–17.

The play kit is begin developed by a team of researchers and developers at Dubit, the Royal College of Art, the Glasgow School of Art, Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Trust and the University of Sheffield.

In Dubit where the product is being produced we regularly undertake research using either large-scale survey data, user testing, qualitative methods on location and then bring these findings together in design summits that combine all key stakeholders to the project (see here for further insight).

For this project we decided to collect data in these ways directly with children using hands-on design and play-based methods.

Understanding the Audience

The children who took part in this stage of the study used drawing as a method of showing us their current favourite types of play. Understanding of this will enable us to produce a design and product that fits in with the types of play children already enjoy and thus help make adoption of the med tech product more successful.

We asked children to:

  • Think about what you like to play at home?
  • What do you like to play with alone?
  • What do you and your friends like to play with together?

Kids Design Summits

During an MRI scanning procedure, children need to lie still within the tunnel of the scanner for on average between 40 minutes to an hour. In addition, children need to be aware that the scanner is extremely loud during the scanning sequences. As a result the MRI procedure can make both children and their parents feel anxious, particularly about their ability to cope with these two factors.

In Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, for example, all children aged 6 and below receive a general anaesthetic (GA). In Sheffield, approximately 58% of MRIs on children aged 5–10 are carried out under GA and this rate may be even higher where children are imaged in adult facilities. Nottingham, for example, notes an overall GA rate of 65%. There are, therefore significant medical risks as well as social, economic and environmental costs associated with current practice.

The idea of the design summit with children was to:

  • Examine children’s preconceptions about and understandings of MRI
  • Identify any concerns that children may have about MRI
  • Enable children to creatively engage with the process of identifying strategies for improving their understanding and alleviating their concerns about MRI
  • Enable children to actively contribute to the process of co-construction and to inform the next phase of the play kit’s development

User testing of other gaming for health apps

Children in the project were asked to try out some of the products that already exist for preparing to have an MRI scan. This was done in order to see the extent to which they understood the information being conveyed. Also, to explore which mechanics and gaming aesthetics appealed to them from existing products.

The findings generated from this research will feed into Phase 2 of the project which is the first stage design and development.

The project is funded by Innovate UK.


Dixon, S. (2017) Diagnostic Imaging Dataset Annual Statistical Release 2016/17. Leeds. Available at: (Accessed: 8 April 2018).